November 6, 2006

Maliki's Life of Quiet Desperation

Hatched by Sachi

In the wake of Saddam Hussein's death sentence, we should be jubilant; but we are not, because a dark, uncertain cloud still hovers over our heads.

Last week's joint operation with Coalition (American) and Iraqi troops in Baghdad caught many high-value-targets. This is the good news; Bill Roggio reports:

On Saturday, Iraqi special forces, backed by U.S. advisers, conducted a raid inside Sadr City, the Baghdad bastion of Iranian proxy Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Three members of a "murder, kidnapping cell" were detained during the raid, and the Mahdi Army fired on Iraqi forces with small arms and RPGs as they departed.

This is the first operation inside Sadr City after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki ordered the lifting of the week-long cordon around Sadr City last Tuesday. On that same day, an operation inside Sadr City netted three terror cell suspects. The order to lift the cordon was hotly opposed by the U.S. military, and Iraqi's vice president also strongly disagreed with the decision. Serious questions have been raised about Maliki's commitment to quell the violence in Baghdad and suppress the power of Sadr's Shiite death squads.

The questions arise from the fact that Prime Minister Maliki heavily leans upon Sadr's political support to remain in office. He may not be wholly owned subsidiary of Sadr (as Sadr is surely an agent of Iran); Maliki shows occasional signs of independence, unlike his predecessor. But at the very least, he is torn between two teams of horses pulling in opposite directions.

The bad news is that Maliki is getting increasingly obstructionist against our effort to curb sectarian and tribal fighting. I'm sure readers heard about Maliki's controversial demand:

Mr. Maliki’s public declaration [lifting the Sadr City blockade] seemed at first to catch American commanders off guard. But by nightfall, American troops had abandoned all the positions in eastern and central Baghdad that they had set up last week with Iraqi forces as part of a search for a missing American soldier. The checkpoints had snarled traffic and disrupted daily life and commerce throughout the eastern part of the city.

The language of the declaration, which implied that Mr. Maliki had the power to command American forces, seemed to overstep his authority and to be aimed at placating his Shiite constituency.

The withdrawal was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite enclave where the Americans have focused their manhunt and where anti-American sentiment runs high.

I understand that Maliki is walking a tightrope, to use a different metaphore. He needs to look tough for the benefit of his constituency; he dares not be seen as an American puppet. But when the prime minister of Iraq is incapable of even trying to disarm the Shiite militas (either the Mahdi Militia or the Badr Brigades), he is hardly in the position to dictate terms to American forces.

And we shouldn't be obeying him as if he were an actual, functioning head of state: he is at best a junior partner in this enterprise; if Iraq wants us to respect their sovereignty, then they should act so as to deserve respect.

I get the feeling that Maliki is not expecting Americans to stay much longer. I wonder where he could have gotten that idea? He's banking on the idea that Sadr will survive and become a powerful political player in Iraq... but that American troops will soon redeploy over the horizon to Okinawa.

When that happens (reasons Maliki), he wants to be on the side of the Pit Bull, not the Pekingese: acting like a swaggering leather-boy against the mighty Americans probably seems like necessary performance art.

But like many others who underestimated Americans, Maliki is dead wrong. No matter what happens tomorrow, we're not leaving before we settle with Sadr and his Mahdi Militia, and then the Badr Brigades. The president has a lot of plenary power, even against a hostile Congress... as Ronald Reagan proved again and again: he, not the Squeaker of the House or the Majority Leader of the Senate, is the Commander in Chief; the president, not Congress, orders the troops around... especially as we already have an authorization for the use of force, which has the same legal consequence as a declaration of war.

I don't know why everyone underestimates our troops; yes, if you look at old history (in Clinton's time), America had a disturbing habit of bugging out... but that has not been true since the current president was elected. Why look to history when contemporary reality belies it?

We win battle after battle, and yet everyone (especially everyone with a "D" after his name) imagines defeat is always around the next corner (see today's astonishing paean to defeatism in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, via Power Line).

Of course, if you believe the Democrats' rhetoric -- and you believe they're going to win control of both houses of Congress -- then you would have to conclude that we'll engage in a "strategic rearward advance" before the job is done. All the elite media say so!

Al-Qaeda and Muqtada Sadr believe that if (when!) our congress turns Democratic, the terrorists will win. And they believe that the more people they slaughter, the more likely Democrats will take the control of Congress.

In fact, it's precisely the opposite: the more we are attacked, especially if we're attacked again in our homeland, the angrier Americans will get. Voters are hincky about the Iraq war, not because they're frightened of being attacked, but because the defeatists have convinced the American people that we're losing the war (by the timeworn technique of shouting it long enough and loudly enough that people start to believe it).

Maybe it will take a new president in 2009 to convince Americans that we really are winning (and some demonstrable, visible, and undeniable progress on the ground in Iraq); see Victor Davis Hanson's brilliant opinion piece on his blog yesterday, about which more later. For now:

Long forgotten is the inspired campaign that removed a vicious dictator in three weeks. Nor is much credit given to the idealistic efforts to foster democracy rather than just ignoring the chaos that follows war — as we did after the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan, or following our precipitous departure from Lebanon and Somalia. And we do not appreciate anymore that Syria was forced to vacate Lebanon; that Libya gave up its WMD arsenal; that Pakistan came clean about Dr. Khan; and that there have been the faint beginnings of local elections in the Gulf monarchies.

But in spite of all this, all Nouri al-Maliki cares about is his personal political future. How did Iraqi get stuck with this oaf? (Oh, that's right: because they were desperate to get rid of the previous Sadrite: Ibrahim al-Jaafari!)

Maliki is wrong about another point, too: Sadr will not last too much longer. Someone kill him long before we leave Iraq. And very soon now, Maliki and the rest of the Shia will have to decide whether to fish or get off the pot... because if he is still tied to Sadr when Sadr goes down, he'll drag Maliki to the bottom of the Euphrates River like a Jersey canary with a lead weight chained to his ankle.

Hm... not a bad image!

Hatched by Sachi on this day, November 6, 2006, at the time of 5:54 AM

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Tracked on November 6, 2006 6:15 PM


The following hissed in response by: jp phish

The American and Iraqi public are witnesses to an unfolding drama, a drama that we are part of.

During this opening scene it is early morning and the public is being guided through a dimly lit forest; scattered rays of sun seem only to confuse our orientation. There is no trail and only our guides know where we are going and how to get there; we have no clue. Some of us see familiar signs and think we know the way, but the guides are using those signs to mislead the enemy amongst us; to assure the mission is not compromised.

The guides are very clever and we have no alternative other than to trust them.

The above hissed in response by: jp phish [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2006 8:44 AM

The following hissed in response by: ag1

I doubt that dems will capture Congress tomorrow: I think (or, rather, hope) that voters are smarter than that. However, if they do, then your estimate is wrong: they will frustrate the pres. that already is not very willing to go agressively, reorient foreigh policy back to "gangsters and policemen" model and will continue to do so until another 911 happens.

The above hissed in response by: ag1 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2006 9:04 AM

The following hissed in response by: yetanotherjohn

Just to be fair, Reagan also bugged out of Lebanon after we took a solid hit. So its not just Clinton.

Now as another thought exercise, assume the press was as invested in a US victory in Iraq as they were in WWII. How would that change the situation in Iraq?

The above hissed in response by: yetanotherjohn [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2006 9:30 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I am not a big fan of Maliki or anything but this guy is between a rock and a hard place. It might well be that the US will have to get rid of Sadr for him because if he does, he will look like he is doing our bidding. Sadr controls about 28 seats {which is not a whole lot}, if the Sunni will get more involved in the political makeup of the country they can offset some of those seats.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2006 12:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Excellent post, Sachi, and especially alarming for me as a Viet Nam vet. We abandoned people I fought to defend and I know what that feels like. I don't want to see it happen to another generation of American warriors.

Excerpted and linked.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2006 12:54 PM

The following hissed in response by: Palladin

In fairness to Maliki,which way would we expect him to go ? I don't see the determination Daffyd sees and neither does Maliki.

If you're the Iraqi PM and you see the nation without firm USA support(and that is what Maliki sees based on all the hot air coming out of the USA,plus the Baker commission which most see as a nice political way for Bush ordering the exit of Iraq) wouldn't you make nice with Sadr?

Our evident weakness is destroying what opportunity we and the decent Iraqis have to form a real nation. I wouldn't trust America further than I could throw America and neither will anyone else after we exit Iraq.

The above hissed in response by: Palladin [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2006 1:38 PM

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